Allison Galbraith -

The History Press | Dancing with Trees

Dancing with Trees. By Allison Galbraith, Alette J. Willis ISBN: 9780750978873. Published: 03-04-2017

				The Selkie Bride

Near the Ayrshire village of Ballantrae, a young fisherman lived in a white-washed cottage, on the Carrick coast. He took his little boat out every day and brought home a catch of fish to sell at the local pier. It was a good business; fish merchants bought them up and took them to Ayr town where they were sold at the harbour to all the fancy hotels and restaurants. One evening, as he moored his boat, he spotted a seal lying further out in the bay, on the rocks. The creature was singing its haunting sea song. Fascinated by the seal's gentle sounds, the lad walked quietly over to get a better look. To his surprise as he came closer he could see this was no ordinary seal. It was a seal woman washing her hair in a rock pool, her sealskin lying next to her. The amber glow of the setting sun made her skin shimmer with rose and bronze radiance. Her long brown hair caught golden sunbeams, sparkling around her like a halo. The fisherman was entranced by her beauty.
He knew from the tales of selkies and sea-witches told amongst the old fisher-folk, that if he wanted to meet and get a chance to speak with her, then he must take her sealskin away first, or she would disappear under the water forever.
He waded soundlessly through the last stretch of water up to the rock she was sitting on and grabbed up her furry coat. With this tucked under his arm, he touched her shoulder. The seal woman turned and squealed in fright. She looked desperately for her skin, but the young man kept it hidden behind his back. As he gazed into her soft brown eyes, he  gasped, stunned by her beauty. Quite simply, it was love at first sight. With a trembling voice, he declared his love and asked her to marry him. The seal-woman saw how handsome he was, his eyes shone with honesty and love, and what could she do without her sealskin anyway!? She blushed and agreed to be his wife.
Together, they lived in his cottage by the sea, happily enjoying each other’s company. His love for her grew stronger every day and she appreciated her husband's kindness and thoughtfulness. Sometimes she heard her seal-kin and saw their round, dark heads in the sea, and she longed to know how they all were, but she was contented with her new life, and loved her human well enough.
Until, one morning, she woke from a dream which had disturbed her; she'd dreamed that her sealskin was above the boards, in the roof rafters. All day long, she kept busy with the house chores, trying her best to ignore the thought of her seal-fur being up in the roof. The following night and the next, the same dream of her hidden skin came back to her. By the third morning she was desperate to find out if the dream was true.
As soon as her man went out in the boat, she stood on a stool and felt about the rafters.  Her hand touched soft fur and a shudder of recognition went through her. Fetching it down, she couldn't resist pulling the thick warm, familiar coat over her shoulders. She was overcome with the urge to go to the sea.

As if the tidal pull was drawing her also, she found herself running to the waters’ edge, wrapped tightly in her old sealskin. The cries of gulls and the sound of waves rhythmically breaking onto rocks filled her ears. Her toes touched the cold salt water and the smell of seaweed engulfed her senses. Into the waves, she slipped effortlessly. Her seal body racing through the water. On she swam to find her seal family, deeper and deeper into the dark green sea she plunged.
The fisherman arrived home that night to an empty cottage. He saw the stool under the open ceiling boards, and knew instantly that he'd lost his beautiful selkie wife back to the sea and the seals. All night he walked up and down the coast, calling her name and listening to the sound of seals singing a song of joy far out at sea.
For a month the heartbroken husband walked day and night calling out to his lost wife along the beaches of the Carrick shore. On the last Sunday of the month, he stumbled upon an empty seal-fur draped over a rock. Putting it on, he felt an unstoppable urge to swim in the clear green water. Down he plunged into the depths, to the land where his wife and her seal-kin lived.
The gentle seals accepted their new son-in-law with kindness. When he and his sweetheart were reunited, she felt the overwhelming love he had for her, and agreed to come back up onto land and live as a human again.

They enjoyed life together above the sea, and as the years rolled on their house was filled with their bonnie children. Bringing up the family kept them busy and the selkie-woman had little time to think of her other family below the waves. But one night the dream of her sealskin came back to her. Three nights in a row, she dreamed of swimming in her seal-coat, deep beneath the waters. This time she found her fur in the thatch. The same compelling need to be in the water, pulled her back to the sea. She knew that her love for her man and children was the greatest in her life, but she could not deny the overwhelming longing of her soul to be with the seals. She swam again, back into the sea as her real self, a seal.
Her husband searched for her each day and night.  Every Sunday for six weeks, he found a new empty seal-jacket left on the rocks; one for him and each of their five children.
When the fisherman and four of his bairns could wait no longer to be re-united with their seal-mother, they put on their skins and joined her in the mer-country of the seals. The oldest son, however, had left home some time before to look for work on the land. He had never wanted to be a fisherman. Instead, he had found a job on a farm in the hills behind Ballantrae. Here was his heart's desire; plowing and sowing the dark, earthy soil, waiting to reap the rich golden harvest of corn from the land. From this farm, he could see the sealskin left on the rocks for him. He watched the tides come up and wash over it, the sun bleach it, and the wind tatter it, until one day it floated away in ragged pieces. Only then did he feel free of his ties to his family and the sea. Now, his own independent life as a farmer could truly begin. 

Soon enough he married his sweetheart, a dairy maid, and together they had a family of  their own. Often he would tell them stories of their seal grandparents and aunts and uncles. Of course they never believed his stories and laughed merrily at the idea of having seal relations. But he kept a special eye on all of his children whenever they  played on the beach close to the rocks, where their seal-cousins frolicked in the salty foam.

Notes : A happy ending which highlights a families'  resilience and ability to change. While the seal mother must return to her element of water, most of her human family give up their familiar way of life to be with her. The one boy who stays to become a farmer, perhaps gives us the strongest message in the story – follow your own path. You do not have to do what your parents have done before you. Change is possible.